Are We There Yet? The Positioning and Repositioning of the Algae Industry
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) …Today, we look at algae’s promise in 2008 and progress now. Has the industry repositioned?
Then, it was Aurora Biofuels — now it’s Aurora Algae. Them, it was Solix Biofuels, now it is Solix Biosystems. Then, Solazyme was generally focused on being a fuel company, now it is a “renewable oils” company more focused on higher-value, higher-margin products like Encapso drilling oils and Algenist health & beauty products.
Then, it was “the summer of algae”, and ExxonMobil was running an awful lot of commercials about its investments in algae-based fuels. Now, the commercials are long gone.
Recently here in Digestville, we had an opportunity to look back at the Algae 2020 study that Emerging Markets released back in 2009, at the height of the algae craze.
Will Thurmond, the study’s author, saw three key trends:
Then, he projected “Investment in Diversified Products – Not Just Biofuels: Proteins for Animal Feed, Pharma/Nutraceutical Products (DHA and Omega 3-6 Heart-Healthy Oils), Cosmetics (Facial Creams) and Bio-Degradable Polymers, Plastics and Environmentally Friendly Green Chemicals, Detergents, Solvents.”
He described algae then as one feedstock for “a diversified portfolio of products,” noting that “algae products are and will be used to manufacture fuel, feed, food, fertilizer, plastics and green chemicals. Algae meal will be a protein supplement for aquatic and livestock/poultry feeds. Noting at the time that 30% of the biomass would likely be the algae oil fraction for biofuels and green chemicals.
He noted in 2009 that “the higher-value, multi-product focus is essential for cash flow for start-ups, and part of a diversified, targeted marketing strategy to generate revenues.”
ADM has partnered with Solazyme to place production at its Clinton, IA facility. Bunge has established a massive JV with Solazyme, and the two are reaching commercial-scale down in Brazil just now. Monsanto has invested in Sapphire Energy, looking not only to empower a new crop, but possibly to find attractive traits in algae that can be adapted in other crops of interest. And the Mars family — owners of huge pet food and human nutrition brands — has invested deeply in Heliae.
Though, it is not all upstream companies. Valero remains invested in Algenol, Phillips 66 has partnered with Sapphire Energy, and India’s refining giant Reliance Industries has invested quite a lot of money in recent years, also primarily in Algenol. DSM has invested more deeply in acquiring Martek.
Delays there have been — some of it pegged to the food and feed markets. For example, Aurora Algae, which has been working hard at its business for seven years now, is just this year hoping to receive GRAS (generally regarded as safe) approval for its protein — essential to releasing a product to the market.
Now, in the case of 30% oil content — excepting companies that pyrolize the entire algae biomass — there are going to be 3.3 pounds of proteins and carbs for every pound of oils. So those USDA approvals, slow though they are, are critical to making fuels, as well. READ MORE and MORE (Algae Industry Magazine)